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Doug DeCinces

April 2, 2010

It’s ironic that the shadow that’s so prominent in Doug DeCinces’ 1978 card belongs to Doug DeCinces and not to the man he replaced. At that time, the story of DeCinces was that he was living in Brooks Robinson’s shadow. For as long as anyone had ever been on one team, Brooks Robinson had been on the Orioles, an all-star game fixture, a mythic October hero, and the most sublime fielder to ever play the position. Then, finally, it was over, and a young player named Doug DeCinces trotted out to take The Legend’s place. You can’t look at Doug DeCinces’ career numbers, even in his earliest years, and say that the changing of the guards in Baltimore was a disaster. But certain players cast shadows so long that they are inescapable, so the story of Doug DeCinces in those years, and even to this day, is that he wasn’t Brooks Robinson.

When he first became the Orioles’ starter at third, he did not yet have the mustache he displays here. In earlier cards it is a thin, scraggly thing, making him look like the haggard, unsmiling, slightly corrupt, sneaky deputy of a more corrupt sheriff in a small southern town. The deputy knows some things he doesn’t necessarily want to know, but what is he going to do about it but go along and try to siphon off a little piece of the illicit pie for himself?

Had he not increased the size and magnificence of his mustache, the shadow would have engulfed him. He would have gotten more and more nervous-looking and beady-eyed, as if the feds had been called in to investigate a case that was tangled up in the small town racket he and the sheriff had going. He would have started grounding into more double plays and sailing more throws into the stands and snapping at reporters and pulling his hamstring more and more because of how tightly wound he and his scraggly mustache were. He would have drifted to an expansion team for a couple unremarkable seasons, then he and the paltry first version of his mustache would have disappeared.

Instead, DeCinces bloomed into a very good third baseman, and I would argue that the staggering improvements he made to his mustache contributed mightily to this. I applaud this mustache as much as I would an MVP season or a Gold Glove award, two honors that narrowly eluded DeCinces in his fine career. It takes guts to sport such a specimen on the middle of your face. It certainly takes someone who is willing to step out from behind someone else’s shadow and start casting shadows of one’s own. Without his mustache, which is, after Rollie Fingers’ creation, the second greatest mustache of the entire unprecedentedly hairy decade, he would have stayed in that shadow, dissolved in that shadow, and the heaven of the cardboard gods would have been a dimmer, more shadowy place.

The present was so disjointed in the 1970s that the past became a craze. The surging Now of the 1960s guttered to the question “what now?” It’s a sparse and scraggly and beady-eyed question. A haunted, hunted question. The answer: escape backward. Happy Days, the Bicentennial, Grease, the 19th Century flat-topped caps of the Pirates, Little House on the Prairie, the Back to the Land movement, The Waltons, and, not least of these things, the mustache of Doug DeCinces, a mustache so rich and entertaining and historical that it seemed to come with a soundtrack of old-timey “pianny,” the kind of thing playing during cowboy fistfights in which guys suffering the immediate effects of haymakers go sliding down the bar or topple backwards through swinging doors and into horse troughs. It’s a mustache with laughs and gravitas. It’s a mustache of wonder. It’s a mustache that will forever cast a majestic shadow all its own.

***

(Love versus Hate update: Doug DeCinces’ back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

10 comments

  1. i always liked decinces, a very dependable player. he might just be the ultimate shadowy figure, as not only did he come right after brooks robinson, but he was traded to california in 1981 so the orioles could bring in new third baseman cal ripken jr., who ended up moving over to shortstop for the rest of eternity.

    maybe dougie d. needed the mustache so some of us stalwarts would never forget…


  2. That “stache” is unbelievable. He looks like some kind of Bartender from the 1890’s.

    Decinces was a very good player from ’77-84 who was overlooked. I remember that ’82 season he had was outstanding. He would have won the MVP if Yount didn’t have that amazing year.

    I always felt like the Orioles should have dominated the mid-late 70’s with the amount of talent they had. They did some really great things like trade for Singleton and develop very good players and they did some odd things like not signing Bobby Grich or keeping Paul Blair and Brooks Robinson in the starting lineup way too long. I guess Don Baylor was the first “contract dump” in the free agent period.

    It’s interesting that a lot of the Angels success from ’79-82 came from the Orioles, Grich, Baylor and Decinces.


  3. DeCinces as an Oriole was a little before my time, so I mostly remember him for not driving in the winning run for the Angels in Game 5 against the Red Sox. Donnie Moore probably would have killed himself eventually anyway, so it’s only a big deal to Angel fans.


  4. I first became of DeCinces from a rookie card, and maybe because the print was so small, I always sort of though of him as “Doug DeClines.”

    I have no idea what his WHIP or WAR or OBP or OPS+ or BRAP was, and it mattered not a whit at the time; he was just Doug De Clines, some infielder guy on Baltimore who would remain at the margins of my baseball consciousness long after he became ‘Doug DeCinces.”

    I was just always a bit disappointed on some level that none of the television announcers that I heard, on those rare instances when an AL game would be on, ever referred to him as “Doug DeClines.”

    I knew better, but it would have made me kind of happy to hear about “Doug DeClines” once in a while.


  5. “It’s ironic that the shadow that’s so prominent in Doug DeCinces’ 1978 card belongs to Doug DeCinces and not to the man he replaced.”–

    GREAT observation.


  6. DeCinces was my favorite Angel; he was very consistent during his years playing here in Southern California, with a slight decline in 1987.


  7. A definite honorable mention for ‘the great mustache ride’.


  8. Josh, have you seen the “I’m Keith Hernandez” film yet?

    It’s available to watch for free here (and only 20 mins long):

    http://imkeithhernandez.com/


  9. Looks good, I’ll have to check it out when I get a sec. Thanks for the link!


  10. I started collecting cards in ’86 and remember DeCinces clean-shaven. So when I look at this picture, it seems like he’s trying to disguise himself on a very limited budget.



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